Literary/film critic Janet / SAT 12-20-14 / Plato portrayer in Rebel without Cause / Flying female fighters in WWII / Dr archenemy of Fantastic Four / Jazz/funk fusion genre / Faddish food regimen / Practice with Book of Shadows

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Constructor: Kevin G. Der and Ian Livengood

Relative difficulty: Medium


THEME: none

Word of the Day: Dock ELLIS (50D: Dock ___, Pirate who claimed to have thrown a no-hitter on LSD) —
Dock Phillip Ellis, Jr. (March 11, 1945 – December 19, 2008) was an American professional baseball player. A pitcher, Ellis played in Major League Baseball from 1968 through 1979 for the Pittsburgh PiratesNew York YankeesOakland AthleticsTexas Rangers, and New York Mets. In his MLB career, he had a 138–119 win–loss record, a 3.46 earned run average, and 1,136 strikeouts.
Ellis threw a no-hitter on June 12, 1970. He later stated that he accomplished the feat under the influence of LSD. Reporters at the game say they do not believe the claim. Ellis was the starting pitcher for the National League in the All-Star Game in 1971. That year, the Pirates were World Series champions. Joining the Yankees in 1976, he helped lead the team to the 1976 World Series, and was named the American League Comeback Player of the Year in the process.
Ellis was an outspoken individual who advocated for the rights of players and African Americans. He also had a substance abuse problem, and he acknowledged after his retirement that he never pitched without the use of drugs. After going into treatment Ellis remained sober and devoted the remainder of his life to counseling drug addicts in treatment centers and prisons. He died of a liver ailment in 2008 at the age of 63. (wikipedia)

• • •

Wow, Christmas is coming early this year. Or maybe it's the eight great puzzles of Hanukkah. Just a crazy Friday/Saturday themeless constructor line-up this weekend. Wilber/Peterson yesterday, Der/Livengood today. Makes me want to ask "Where the hell have y'all been lately?" But let's focus on the wondrous bounties of the present moment. I found yesterday's a snappier puzzle than this one here, but this one here is still lovely. A little sturdier, a little more inside-the-box, but still packing a decent wallop, and hiding a few real surprises. Biggest surprise (the one that came closes to knocking me flat on my ass) was UNO DUE TRE (13D: Italian count?). Try parsing that **** from the back end. Me: "What the hell ends in -UETRE!?" Had me doubting DEA and everything. Didn't help that the Italian answer was abutted by the highly questionable MANSLAYER. I mean, really, what is that? Murderer = slayer. MANSLAYER is redundant, at best. What, is it supposed to remind me that I'm not dealing w/ Fenimore Cooper's "The Deerslayer"? Manslaughter, I've heard of. Maneater, same (watch out boy, she'll chew you up). But MANSLAYER, choke yuck ack. I had the -SLAYER part and still struggled to get that. I teach crime fiction: no MANSLAYERs up in there.


Still, there's great answers APLENTY here. REAL GOOD stuff. Speaking of APLENTY, not so easy to see when you have decided 36D: Caterwaul is HOWL. Had 35A: In abundance ending in -ENTH for too long. Also went for NINJA over WICCA (9D: Practice with the Book of Shadows). Even in retrospect, seems plausible. The only thing I'd really never heard of was "NED'S Declassified" (54D: "___ Declassified" (old Nickelodeon show)). But then I never even saw the clue. That corner, and its symmetrical opposite, were pretty easy. It was the other corners that smacked me around a bit. 6x9s somehow way harder to piece together than the 5x8s. Puzzle started out very easy with a gimme at 1D: Tagliatelle, e.g. (PASTA), with the "P" then confirming my suspicions that 1A: Where much grass grows was POT-related. There were a sizable number of Gimmes today: PASTA, MOLIERE, SERAPE, novel-ETTE, Dr. DOOM, Janet MASLIN. Still, puzzle clocked in only slightly faster than usual. I think the clue on ABBA (5D: Ones repeating "I do" in 1976?) was my favorite, though I don't think it needs a "?", actually. Clue is pretty damn literal.

    Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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    Major media event of '95 / FRI 12-19-14 / Almost any character in Jon Stewart's Rosewater / Never-seen neighbor on Mary Tyler Moore / Novel subtitled Parish Boy's Progress / Scimitar-horned creature / Fictional school bully with henchmen named Crabbe Goyle / Dr. Watson portrayer on CBS's elementary

    Friday, December 19, 2014

    Constructor: Brad Wilber and Doug Peterson

    Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium



    THEME: none

    Word of the Day: LINE CUT (41D: Black-and-white engraving) —

    NOUN

    An engraving from a drawing consisting of solid blacks and whites, without gradations of color. (oxforddictionaries.com)

    • • •

    This is stunning work. This is what the "best crossword in the world" should look like All The Time—or at least most of the time. Fresh fill, vibrant phrases, clever cluing. There's a host of suboptimal fill—NEC SST ANI AMO ETD ENE DIR—but it's largely innocuous and it's holding together these gorgeous banks of longer answers. Looping, cascading, dancing—the lovely, crafted quality of this grid stands as a sharp visual rebuke to most recent NYT puzzles. Now, it's not really fair, as today we have not one but two of the very best constructors working today. No exaggeration. Can't remember the last time I did a puzzle by either of these guys where I was like "[frowny face]." At worst, good; mostly, great. Haven't seen a lot of their work in the NYT of late. They have been working other venues, for a variety of what I'm sure are very good reasons. But it's great to see them here. OJ TRIAL! Even their dated stuff sounds fresh!

    Fast start on this as SPA TON and ELK went in 1 2 3, and those long Downs were not far behind. Had trouble rounding the corner up into the NE, as LITERS was not an intuitive answer for me to 5D: Some bottled water purchases (I was looking brand name). But I got STANDS ALONE from just the S-A- and things came together from there. TULLES is not a word I know. I confuse it with TUILES and TOILES and other things that are all jumbled together in my mind in a closet marked "Fabrics." Looks like each successive quadrant got a bit harder for me in this one. Easy NW, Pretty Easy NE, Mediumish SE, and Medium-Challenging SW, where not (exactly) knowing LINE CUT and not getting how SAGA is a good answer for 53D: Novel format and not being completely certain of SPIREA (45A: Flowering shrub whose name comes from the Greek for "coil") had me struggling a little. Also, I thought the "T" in SALT was "treaty" :( It's TALKS (49D: Part of SALT).


    Best little surprise of the day was OPEN MRIS (23A: Tests that accommodate claustrophobes) Plural doesn't thrill me, but the term is very current, very common, and yet nothing I've ever seen in puzzles before. I also liked SENIORITIS, as it is timely (you'd know what I mean if you could see some of the student work on my desk right now…). My biggest hiccup of the day was 43A: Find a spot for, say. I had ADOPT. Later, I had ADMIT. Neither of those was right.

    Gonna go watch the last "Colbert" now and then be sad.
      Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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